Ep. 104: Ethics and Freedom

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I just got back from a semi-silent retreat at what I consider to be my current home meditation center, Spirit Rock in California. I say semi-silent because between our silent periods, we would meet for about 4 hours a day to discuss topics we were studying together in a 2-year program. 


This particular retreat was all about sīla (in Pali), or ethics. We’ll go into more detail in a bit, but the idea is that when you speak and act in alignment with your integrity (or ethics), you’re naturally happier. And it’s actually a form of love and what’s possible for the human heart and for our freedom, more than it is restrictive. 


If you’re like me, and you may have had a less stellar feeling about “ethics” or “morals” in the past because they were presented in a more judgmental way (and perhaps viewed them more as a constraint or a sense of deprivation). I invite you to indulge me in this episode, because the way I talk about it here is totally different. 


Also, I want us to enter into this topic with a lot of self-compassion and not use this as a way to beat ourselves up or shame ourselves. That is not the purpose of reflecting on our integrity – or that of others. 


I’ve found that the topic of sīla can be lost in the West because it’s become a very relativistic kind of culture, and the thought of, “How come we’re not living from a place of compassion?” isn’t so … foundational. Instead, the focus is more on being able to do what we want, get what’s ours, and live the way we want to. 


The way many of us have had ethics presented to us is different, too. Ethical guidelines are often presented like a list of things you must do without question, and you better not screw up or you’ll go to hell. The idea is you HAVE to do them…or else. And if you follow them, you’ll eventually be happy…waaaaay later, like when you die. And they tend to be paired with guilt and shame – which this is not the intention, IMO. 


On the other hand, in the understanding of mindfulness and compassion and the tradition from which the practice of sīla comes, ethics are simply the laws of human happiness, and they’re pretty universal, and are directly paired with our ultimate freedom. 


So it’s less “you shouldn’t do harm” and more that if you want to live a life of freedom, with a free heart and mind, a life of happiness, then this becomes critical as part of your practice, your mindfulness practice. This can feel uncomfortable, particularly for folks that come to mindfulness practice and want to keep it purely secular. But even in that context, it still matters, because you’re a human with an inherent desire to not cause others suffering. More on that in the pod. 


We can mindfully look at our actions or past situations and sense, intuitively and directly, “Is this harmful to myself or others?” or “Is what I’m doing beneficial or harmful to myself or others?” 


If we’re interested in this freedom and happiness – liberation – but we don’t have the foundation of ethics, we might find that at some point, we’re not going to move much further because we find that our insight and mindfulness practice can only take us so far if it’s not integrated into the rest of our lives, particularly in the relational aspect. How we interact with the world around us. 

These powerful ethics are also deep in our DNA. No matter where you are in the world or what society you are a part of, our essential ethical concepts are very similar. 


Another way to think of ethics is to call them our conscience. For the most part, all of us have an innate compass for this.  


That’s not to say a child won’t lie steal a cookie every now and then. But the reality is that when we’re stealing a cooking, we also look around and worry about getting caught and don’t feel all that great when we’re stealing or lying. There’s something in us that knows what’s right and wrong from the beginning in some way.  



And to acknowledge it and bring it into the field of mindfulness brings a kind of ease in times of potential confusion. It brings clarity and courage to life, as well. In the free Unshakeable Confidence course I teach (see below to access it), I talk about how living in integrity gives us more confidence since we walk through the world with nothing to hide. 


Life will always bring dilemmas and issues to us, and cookie cutter solutions won’t suffice. But with a common agreement of acting in our integrity, ethics, conscience – whatever you want to call it – we don’t have to try to control the world around us as much. 


There are 5 mindfulness trainings we can all undertake to really inhabit care for this world, sometimes known as precepts. And we know how important caring is at this time, right? For ourselves, and for others. Often they’re presented as things to NOT do. But Thích Nhất Hạnh presented these in ways of active action. 


The first is “to cultivate compassion and learn the ways of protecting the lives of people, animals, and plants. It’s non-harming, or reverence for life.” 


The second is “to cultivate lovingkindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, and plants. To not steal and not possess anything which should belong to others.” 


The third is “to cultivate my responsibility for my own sexual energies and actions and to learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.” 


The fourth training is “to cultivate loving speech and deep listening.” This one is all about mindfulness with our words. 


The final training is “to cultivate good health, physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming.” 


As you read these and think about them, ask yourself, which is harder for you to practice? Why might that be? Which ones feel easier? 


That fifth one alone can be a source of enormous suffering. Every culture has ways of drinking, eating, and getting high in different fashions. Most people will try to alter their consciousness at some point. It’s not necessarily about abstaining from all of it. Instead, it’s about becoming mindful of the impacts of what we consume has on our awareness, our consciousness; how we act and how the impact on others; considering the benefits of moderation and not overconsuming or if, for us, perhaps it is best to refrain. This is not from a place of judgment but from us discovering this and deciding this for ourselves. 


So, after reading all this, are you comfortable with the concept of integrity? Ethics? If not, what makes you uncomfortable? It’s an interesting question to reflect on. 


And remember, this topic isn’t a mandate or a list of rules for you to abide by. It’s an invitation to reflect on it, take what works for you, and leave what doesn’t. 


It’s an invitation to check it out for ourselves. They are suggestions for what has generally led to a more calm and peaceful and free mind and heart. I know as rebels, we tebd to not do well with being tol what to do and this is not that. We can test it out for ourselves and see if they’re right or not – ourselves. 


What we’re talking about are the ways for us to understand, with mindfulness and compassion, how to be happy and live a life that has liberation of the heart and mind as a priority in the best interest for us and all of of humanity. 


We don’t have to be perfect to change people’s lives. 

I really appreciate this quote by the Dharma teacher Larry Yang. He says,  


May I be loving, open, and aware in this moment; 

If I cannot be loving, open, and aware in this moment, may I be kind; 

If I cannot be kind, may I be nonjudgmental; 

If I cannot be nonjudgmental, may I not cause harm; 

If I cannot not cause harm, may I cause the least harm possible. 


In this Episode you will learn: 

// The difference between ethics as a form of freedom vs restraint/moral judgment  

// Why we need both wisdom and compassion 

// The importance of not blindly accepting ethical recommendations but checking if they’re true for YOU 

// Moving from ethics as not just a form of refraining, but also active acts of compassion 

// How living in integrity gives us more confidence 

// How ethics is not an abstract concept but is in our DNA as humans 

// 5 mindfulness trainings we can undertake to find liberation of the heart and mind 



// Access the FREE Unshakeable Confidence training here https://www.anaverzone.com/unshakeable-confidence-training/ 


// If you’re ready to learn more about embracing all facets of yourself and your beliefs and heading into the next chapter of your life with a fresh, transformed start, head over to AdventureMastermind.com and apply for the Summer cohort. We have 2 altered states retreats, weekly coaching, virtual retreats, and more. I’ve got you! 


// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist FB group, and tune in weekly when I go live on new topics.   


// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level on your own time? To study it and practice it together with a group of people with the same goals of freedom, adventure and purpose? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.   


It’s also where you can get individual help applying the concepts to your own life. It’s where you can learn new coaching tools not shared on the podcast that will blow your mind even more, and it’s where you can connect over all things freedom with other freedom junkies just like you and me. It’s my favorite place on earth and it will change your life, I guarantee it. Come join us at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there.